The Kamloops Chamber of Commerce wants the province to hit the gas pedal in providing information to the public on electoral reform. While the NDP government has slated for this fall a third provincial referendum regarding the matter, it has yet to be made public what British Columbians will be voting on or the impacts of a new system and what it would look like.
“I don’t know that we have the time, quite frankly, between now and then to even make that happen,” Kamloops Chamber of Commerce president Joshua Knaak said. “There seems to also be some resistance on the part of government to get that information out there. We’re just saying, ‘Let us know what we’re going to be voting on.’”
Premier John Horgan has said voting by mail-in ballot will be conducted by the end of November, but he has yet reveal specific details on dates and the referendum question.
British Columbians have twice rejected changes to the first-past-the-post system of electing MLAs, in 2005 and 2009 when the single-transferable ballot was offered as an alternative.
The chamber wants clarity surrounding the type of proportional representation being considered. It also wants a non-partisan review body and a clear majority to guide changes.
The province has proposed a 50+1 majority, which Knaak said contradicts the Referendum Act. He has concerns Interior B.C. would not be fairly represented against the will of larger populations in the Lower Mainland.
“We don’t want to turn this into a rural-urban divide because I don’t think that’s the intent,” Knaak said. “But it sure could look like that.”
The recommendations — which were made in collaboration with Kelowna’s business community — will be deliberated and decided upon at the BC Chamber of Commerce’s annual general meeting, which will be held in Kamloops from May 24 to May 26 at the Coast Kamloops Hotel and Conference Centre.
If the recommendations are approved, the provincial chamber would lobby Victoria based on the business interests of the province.
“We’re not saying we’re against proportional representation,” Knaak said. “We’re just saying it’s hard to make a decision on something you can’t quantify.”
The province wrapped up its public-engagement period on Feb. 28, receiving 88,000 online questionnaires, hundreds of written submissions and information from about 30 organizations the government said will help shape the referendum process. The next step is a report from B.C.’s attorney general.
“I guess, in some regard, we may be late to the game,” Knaak said. “And we’ve got our process, so I can’t change the timing of when the BC Chamber AGM is, necessarily.”
The local chamber is submitting several other resolutions, including calls to update the post-secondary school funding formula, to make carbon taxes revenue-neutral and to limit the number of needles distributed to drug users.
The full list of resolutions can be read on the Kamloops Chamber of Commerce website.
The concept of a tax-free savings account and 10-year passports originated via the Kamloops Chamber of Commerce.